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Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc. v. Rasemas

Court of Chancery of Delaware

September 26, 2014

Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc.
v.
Rasemas

Date Submitted: September 15, 2014

Thomas E. Hanson, Jr., Esquire Morris James

David E. Wilks, Esquire Laina M. Herbert, Esquire Wilks, Lukoff & Bracegirdle, LLC

Dear Counsel:

Defendants Joseph Rasemas ("Rasemas"), Cynthia Rasemas ("Cynthia"), and Purple Toad, Inc. ("Purple Toad" and collectively, with Rasemas and Cynthia, the "Defendants") have filed a Motion for Contempt and Sanctions against Plaintiff Mitchell Lane Publishers, Inc. ("Mitchell Lane") and Counterclaim Defendant Barbara Mitchell ("Mitchell"). Defendants allege that Mitchell and Mitchell Lane violated the Stipulation and Order for the Protection and Exchange of Confidential Information entered on February 28, 2014 ("Confidentiality Order")[1] by summarizing, describing, disclosing, or characterizing Defendants' confidential discovery material to unauthorized third-parties. Defendants request the Court to hold Mitchell and Mitchell Lane in contempt and impose sanctions by either (i) denying Mitchell Lane's pending application for injunctive relief, or (ii) dismissing Mitchell Lane's claims and entering judgment for Purple Toad on its counterclaim. Defendants further request the award of expenses and fees for their costs of discovery and bringing this motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendants allege that, on at least three occasions, Mitchell disclosed confidential discovery material to unauthorized third-parties. These communications are summarized below.

1. A February 20, 2014 email to Heidi Holzapfel ("Holzapfel"), an employee of a Mitchell Lane distributor: "We are in discovery now and all the documentation that has been produced so far has been misappropriated from Mitchell Lane." [2]
2. An April 7, 2014 email to Daniel Kraus ("Kraus"), an editor at Booklist, a book review publication: "We now have all the proof that Purple Toad books began life from a Mitchell Lane design template. The Purple Toad books were even made on my company computers during work hours alongside of the Mitchell Lane books he was working on. I know you were one of the first people who noticed that Purple Toad books were clones of Mitchell Lane, so I wanted to give you an update on the case."[3]
3. April 12, 2014 emails to Joanne Mattern ("Mattern"), one of Mitchell Lane's freelance authors. Mitchell wrote, "I need to inform you of an unfortunate event. I just learned through Discovery that Purple Toad Publishing (Joe Rasemas) is planning to release a book about Lorde this year. Because of our lawsuit against them, I would not want to put your book in print now."[4] In a follow-up email, Mitchell wrote, "When I found out he is publishing that book, I had to move as far away from him as possible. He has copied my entire company. I can't be seen copying his!"[5]

II. LEGAL STANDARD

To establish civil contempt, Defendants must demonstrate that Mitchell "violated an order of this Court of which [she] had notice and by which [she was] bound."[6] Defendants bear the burden of establishing contempt by clear and convincing evidence.[7] If they produce such evidence, the burden shifts to Mitchell to show a reason why she was unable to comply with the Confidentiality Order.[8]

When a party has failed to abide by the Court's orders, the Court "has broad discretion to impose sanctions" that are "just and reasonable."[9] Before exercising its discretion to award an entry of judgment, the Court must be satisfied that there was an "element of willfulness or conscious disregard of a court order."[10] In all civil cases, a contempt determination ...


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